Reaching Out: Intentionally and Purposefully
It was among the Church’s first acts of compassion more than 2,000 years ago-providing food for hungry families. But yet, for Plymouth Heights Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI, it was being done in a brand new way, intentionally and purposefully. Using an “action play” that was developed with the help of Volunteers In Service , a CFA member, Plymouth Heights CRC saw the distribution of food as a “first stop” towards starting significant relationships in their neighborhood. The church believes that by cultivating these relationships they can invite others to share in a new/renewed life with God.
“We know that God has placed our church in this neighborhood for specific reasons and to do specific things,” said Tom VanWingerden, a member of the church’s Missional Action Team, the team that developed the action plan.
“By understanding what our neighbors wanted as well as what we, as a church, can do well, we decided to host a mobile food pantry.”
Wayne Squires, a Congregational Coach for Volunteers In Service who has worked with Plymouth Heights since 2007, said church leaders realized they weren’t living out their mission of “equipping disciples to become neighbors and inviting neighbors to become disciples.”
“They did real well with events and programs,” Squires said, “but they were limited in their relational engagement. They identified their biggest challenge as relationship in mission. But they also understood that they needed to begin with a serving opportunity.”
The church, in partnership with Feeding America, has recently hosted two distribution events in their parking lot on Saturday mornings. While the first one drew 36 families, the second-on September 26-saw 50 families receive fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and juice.
Before receiving the food, residents were served baked goods, coffee, and juice and were engaged around tables by some of the more than 60 volunteers who came out to help.
“We know that relationships are important,” said VanWingerden. “That’s why we have people at the tables. Even though we want to get to know them just a little bit better, and have them know us better, it’s not an ‘us and them’ kind of thing. We’re all in this together.”
Squires said the church is learning to understand what it means to be a good neighbor.
“They’ve identified that it involves ‘boundary-crossing’ ministry. It means they need to be with people who are different and they need to cultivate friendships in the neighborhood.”
Squires also sees two significant things happening through this work.
“They are working ‘with’ another organization (Feeding America) and they understand that beyond providing a service, they can build relationships, learn from those who are being served, and eventually have those folks serving as well.”
By Wayne Squires and Jim Schepers , Congregational Coaches, Volunteers In Service .